Lesson 1, Topic 1
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Section 1: Identify & Explain A Generic Communications Model

ryanrori October 14, 2020

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Introduction

Communication within organisations is defined as the process by which information is exchanged and understood by two or more people, usually with the intent to motivate or influence behaviour. The sender has the intent to influence the actions of the receiver.

The purpose of communication is to get the message across to others clearly and unambiguously.  Doing this involves effort from both the sender of the message and the receiver. And it’s a process that can be fraught with error, with messages often misinterpreted by the recipient. When this isn’t detected, it can cause confusion, wasted effort and missed opportunity. Within organisations it can even affect the profit margins and have serious implications.

Communication is only successful when both the sender and the receiver understand the same information as a result of the communication and act upon it as intended.

By successfully getting the message across, the sender conveys his/her thoughts and ideas effectively. When not successful, the thoughts and ideas that the sender conveys do not necessarily reflect his/her own but rather a distraught version, causing a communications breakdown and creating challenges that hinders progress.

COMMUNICATION

Communication Elements

Defining Communication

Communication can be defined as the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information by speech, visuals, signals, writing, or behaviour.

Communication is derived from the latin word “communicare’, meaning to impart, share, or make common. It is estimated that the word communication entered the English language in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The key root is mun- (not uni-), related to such words as “munificent,” “community,” “meaning,” and Gemeinschaft. The Latin munus has to do with gifts or duties offered publicly – including gladiatorial shows, tributes, and rites to honour the dead.

In Latin, communicatio did not signify the general arts of human connection via symbols, nor did it suggest the hope for some kind of mutual recognition. Its sense was not in the least mentalistic: communicatio generally involved tangibles.

Within the Latin context of the word communication refers to the process of exchange of facts, ideas and opinions, and as a means for individuals or organisations to share meaning and understanding with one another. In other words, it is a transmission and interaction of facts, ideas, opinions, feelings and attitudes.

It is the ability of mankind to communicate across barriers and beyond boundaries that has ushered in the progress of mankind. It is the ability of fostering speedy and effective communication around the world that has minimised the world and made ‘globalisation’ a reality.

Communication requires a sender, a message, and a recipient, although the receiver need not be present or aware of the sender’s intent to communicate at the time of communication; thus communication can occur across vast distances in time and space. Communication requires that the communicating parties share an area of interest or purpose.  The communication process is complete once the receiver has understood the message of the sender and in many cases responded verbally or by action.

Non-verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication describes the process of transferring meaning in the form of non-word messages. Research shows that the majority of our communication is nonverbal, also known as body language.

Some of non-verbal communication includes gesture, body language or posture, facial expression and eye contact, object communication such as clothing, hairstyles, architecture, and tone of voice as well as a collection of the above.

Oral Communication

Oral communication, while primarily referring to spoken verbal communication, can also use visual aids and non-verbal elements to support the conveyance of meaning. Oral communication includes speeches, presentations, discussions, and aspects of interpersonal communication.

As a type of face-to-face communication, body language and choice tonality play a significant role, and may have a greater impact upon the listener than informational content. This type of communication also gives immediate feedback.

Oral communication can be defined as the speaking and listening skills needed to participate verbally in discussions, exchange thoughts and information, make clear and convincing presentations, and interact with a variety of audiences.

Communication Elements

Within communication there are seven clearly defined elements:

  • Source idea (Source)
  • Message
  • Encoding
  • Channel
  • Receiver
  • Decoding
  • Feedback

The source idea is the process by which one formulates an idea to communicate to another party. This process can be influenced by external stimuli such as books or radio, or it can come about internally by thinking about a particular subject. The source idea is the basis for the communication.

The message is what will be communicated to another party. It is based on the source idea, but the message is crafted to meet the needs of the audience. For example, if the message is between two colleagues, it will take a different form to a message intended to communicate with a manager.

Encoding is how the message is transmitted to another party. The message is converted into a suitable form for transmission. The medium of transmission will determine the form of the communication. For example, the message will take a different form dependent upon whether the communication format is spoken or written.

The channel is the medium of the communication. The channel must be able to transmit the message from one party to another without changing the content of the message. The channel can be a piece of paper or a communications medium such as an e-mail. The channel is the path of the communication from sender to receiver. An e-mail can use the Internet as a channel.

The receiver is the party receiving the communication. The party uses the channel to get the communication from the transmitter. A receiver can be a computer, or a piece of paper depending on the channel used for the communication.

Decoding is the process where the message is interpreted for its content. It also means the receiver thinks about the content of the message and internalises it. This step of the process is where the receiver compares the message to prior experiences or external stimuli.

Feedback is the final step in the communication process. This step conveys to the transmitter that the message is understood by the receiver. The receiver formats an appropriate reply to the first communication based on the channel and sends it to the transmitter of the original message.

Types of Communication

 

Oral Communication

Oral communication is the most used form of communication. Whether it is to present some important data to colleagues or lead a boardroom meeting, these skills are vital. We are constantly using words verbally to inform our subordinates of a decision, provide information, and so on. This is done either by phone or face-to-face.

 

Written Communication

Writing is used when one has to provide detailed information such as figures and facts, even when giving a presentation.  It is also generally used to send documents and other important material to stakeholders. It can be stored for later use as, being recorded, it can be referred to easily. Other important documents such as contracts, memos and minutes of meetings are also in written form for this purpose. Within the ever growing technological world around us, verbal communication has been replaced to a great extent by a faster form of written communication – the e-mail.

 

Body Language

Although the most common methods of communication are carried out orally or in writing, when it comes to management techniques, the power of non-verbal communication must never be underestimated. It is contextualised through a facial expression, gestures and several other body movements that send out message to those around a person. With body language it is vital to keep in mind that there might be cultural differences.

Choosing The Right Method

The communication method (or channel) that should be selected should depend on the message that needs to be transmitted.

It is advisable to decide:

  • What is the target audience?
  • Cost-effectiveness of the method?
  • Productivity implication?
  • Type of information that needs to be transmitted?

 

  • Interactive or static – Should the communication be one-way or two-way? Interactive means a back-and-forth conversation; static means delivery of a message. What does the message require? Brainstorming and questioning require interactivity. Updates can be static.
  • Personal or impersonal Personal means face-to-face, or on the phone. Impersonal communication is in writing. Does the communication need to be face-to-face? Is the purpose to build relationships? Will the tone of voice be important for this particular message? Are the ideas potentially confusing?

 

A communication channel becomes richer as human elements are added e.g. voice tone, facial expression, and physical presence. The more complicated the message is, the richer the channel should be. When the message is routine and easy to understand, a lean channel is more appropriate.

Richest Channel                                                                                                                        Leanest Channel

 

The following flowchart provides guidelines for choosing the best communication method:

Physical Presence Personal Interaction (Phone Call) Impersonal Interactive (E-mail) Personal static    (Voice Mail) Impersonal static (letter, report)

 

 

In general, consider selecting channels in the following order, from lean to rich:

  • Intranet/shared drive
  • Fax
  • Letter
  • Voice mail
  • Pager
  • E-mail
  • Instant message
  • Phone call
  • Face-to-face (two people)
  • Teleconference (internal and external participants)
  • Videoconference (internal and external participants)
  • Meeting (entire team)

 

Principles to keep in mind when deciding on the correct channel for transmitting a message:

  • Call a face-to-face meeting only when physical presence is required – If the meeting does not require problem solving, brainstorming, or input from employees, use an alternative way to share or distribute information. When the information distributed is merely for your information, a face-to-face meeting is not required. Consider sending out a group voice mail, an e-mail, or a memo. At the most, schedule a conference call, and ask participants to submit project status in writing two days prior.
  • Talk voice-to-voice when a message is potentially confusing or emotional – Through the early 1990s, when one needed to ask a colleague a question, a person simply got up and walked to his or her desk or a phone call was made. However today colleagues do not even walk two doors down to converse; they just dash off an e-mail message. One detriment to this approach is that people spend inordinate amounts of time staring at a computer screen instead of interacting with one another.
  • Don’t use voice mail as a way to avoid conflict – It is easy to establish when a person did not expect to personally speak to the receiver. They often sound disappointed or unprepared when the call is actually answered, because they were poised to leave a message instead. Automation gives people fewer opportunities to practice interpersonal skills. And because of the rushed, multi-tasking environments in which organisations operate, it is becoming harder to really focus during a personal conversation. The human touch may also be lacking when a company’s automated phone answering system does not provide an option to speak to someone live.

Use the quick reference chart below to identify the purpose of the communication before the message is send.

Function

Meeting Phone/conf. call E-mail Voice mail

Letter/ fax

Brainstorming and negotiation

X

X

Formality required

X

X

Informal, quick update

X X

Relationship building

X

X X

Distribution of lengthy, complex info

X

X

Distribution of simple, brief info

X

Legal purposes; hard-copy requirement

X

X

Sending of detailed documents for review and response

X

X

Discussion of documents you sent

X X

Sending of urgent message; need for immediate response

X X

Discussion of familiar topic; need for little explanation

X

Discussion of project updates and status

X

X

Need for corrective action or for praise X

Sharing of organisational message

X

X

X

Addition of personal touch to quick message

X

Need for open discussion on new policy or developments within the organisation

X

X

Quick sending of important update to many people; need for record-keeping

X

Need of privacy / confidentiality

X

X

 

There are many methods one can choose form in order to communicate a message. It is important to take the time to consider the right communication channel for the right audience aligned to the right purpose.

The basic flow of communication can be seen in the diagram below. In this flow, the sender sends a message to the receiver and then they share the feedback on the communication process.

 

 

Once the methods of communication have been understood, the next step would be to consider various communication models.

2  Communication Models

Communication, especially in the business world can be defined as the interaction between employers and employees, employees and clients, stockholders and investor staff, managers and vendors. Irrespective of whether this communication happens face-to-face, over the phone or via e-mail, it can be broken down into three basic elements.

The Communication Model is one way of splitting basic communication into three more advanced stages:

  • Linear Communication
  • Transactional Communication
  • Interactional Communication

Linear Communication

This, a one-way communication theory, is regarded as the most basic communication model and was developed by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver in 1949. A sender creates and encodes a message which is then transmitted via a specific medium to a receiver, who then decodes the message. This model is based on the idea that, at any given time during the conversation only one party is expressing information while the other is exclusively absorbing it.

  • Role of the Sender – The sender is the source providing information, the only one responsible for doing so and the only powerful decision-making force within that communication. This is done by encoding the message into noise, language or other forms of communication and then sending this encoded information via a medium to the mind of the receiver.
  • Role of the Receiver – The listener is responsible only for receiving and absorbing information that is being sent to him. The receiver then decodes the message by attaching meaning to the noise and words sent by the source. In general he is powerless since, in the linear model, he is only responsible for listening – absorbing and decoding the message.
  • Problems of the linear model – Many scientist feel that, because the linear model is a one-way process only, where one person exclusively sends and the other only receives information, it is not suitable for instances where it is actually necessary for both parties to be actively involved in the communication process.

When this model was originally developed in 1949, noise – which is referred to as interference in the message due to dropped telephone signals and faulty telephone connections – was a common occurrence. Most of these issues have been solved through the advance in technology but noise can still refer to conflicting signals between the sender and receiver. A variation of this model would be the intermediary model, in which a gatekeeper – such as an editor of a magazine – would first modify a message before it actually gets to the receiver

Interactive Communication

This model is based on the linear model but has a feedback loop between the sender and receiver added to it. If an employee sends an e-mail to their manager feedback is usually given, and if the message needs further clarification the encoding-transmission-decoding process of the linear model is repeated to form the actual loop. Interactive communication is deemed successful only once the receiver fully understands the message that is being transmitted.

  • Function – This model’s function is to accurately convey a message that is clear and easily understood by the receiver. It is used mainly in the business sector making employees feel informed and appreciated within the company.
  • Types – Interactive communication can be split into verbal and nonverbal. The two must match up because otherwise it will lead to confusion and misunderstanding. For example, if your boss tells you verbally that you are doing good work but then fires you the next day, there is obviously a communication breakdown. Nonverbal communication is made up of gestures, vocal tones and facial expressions.
  • Effects – Effective communication will make people feel like they are empowered and thus respected. In turn they will be motivated to be productive and perform well. It can have negative and positive implications though, for example in politics if a politician doesn’t explain himself clearly there is a lot of room for misconception.
  • Misconceptions – One downside of interactive communication is that it says directly what a person feels. Feelings do not always communicate an idea effectively and therefore interactive communication is only successful if the actual message is correctly interpreted by the receiver. Thus effective interactive communication is based on both the sending and receiving side of the matter.
  • Benefits – Interactive communication can lead to successful businesses, relationships and the ability to express ones feeling and ideas in such a way that they are easily understood. A good example of this is marriage – if correctly used interactive communication in this case will foster love, trust and respect.

Transactional Communication

By adding non- verbal communication, such as gestures, eye contact, silence, positioning, facial expressions and body language, we build on the interactive process even further. Different countries and cultures interpret these aspects in different ways, some cultures using gestures more than others.

Shannon’s Model

Claude Shannon developed the Shannon Model in 1948 and laid the foundation for the different communication models that followed.

Following is a simple illustration of this model:

The diagram above clearly illustrates how communication takes place, and also helps one to determine what could go wrong.

In Shannon’s model, the information refers to a person that is sending a message with the use of a transmitter, such as talking to somebody using a phone or computer.  The signals are sent and received depending on the method that used.  The noise at the bottom refers to the part in a communication that interferes with the message and how it is received.

Berlo’s Model

Another famous communication model is Berlo’s model. In this model, there is a focus on the relationship between the sender and the receiver.  For the message to be encoded and decoded the communication skill of both the sender and the receiver should be working well and be attuned to the message.  The message will be decoded the best if both parties are at their best.

According to Berlo’s model there are 4 main components, namely the source, message, channel and receiver.

The source includes the skill of communication, attitudes of a person, the knowledge that the person has about the subject that he/she is talking about, an understanding of people as well as the person’s culture.

The message should include content and structure.  The channel is about the senses and includes hearing, seeing, touching, smelling and tasting.  Some people add the 6th sense, but the original Berlo’s Model did not make provision for such.

The receiver has the exact same attributes as the source but on the decoding end of the message and not the encoding end of the communication.

Schramm’s Model

Schramm on the other hand, emphasised in 1954 that both the sender and the receiver take turns playing the role of the encoder and the decoder when it comes to communication.

The following diagram illustrates the model proposed by Schramm.

Various other models such as the ‘Helical’ model, Aristotle’s models and several other models have followed these models.

All of these models have their advantages and disadvantages and some of the models try and section the process in order to make it easier to understand.

Communication Model in Marketing – The A.I.D.A Model

If you’ve ever been motivated to take action due to an advertisement, you’ve likely been influenced by a technique called A.I.D.A, which stands for “Attention, Interest, Desire, Action”.

This is a process that is used by marketers when communicating in a manner to tempt us, the public, to buy a product or perform a specific action.

Attention – The attention portion of the marketing message occurs at the beginning and is designed to give the person a reason to take notice by making use of a shock technique or other methods such as asking thought-provoking questions or surprise.

Interest – Once you’ve gained the person’s attention, the next step is to maintain interest in your product or service to keep the recipients engaged.  A demonstration or illustration can help the recipients to further identify with the problem and want to actively seek possible solutions. By personalising the problem, you’re making it hit closer to home.

Desire – In the desire stage, your objective is to show the person how your product or service can solve their problem. (For example, if you sell washing machines and you tell the female public that this machine will take 20 years off their age, they will most likely buy the washing machine.)  A common advertising process is the “before and after” technique, such as when a cleaning product makes a soiled item look brand new. If done effectively, the person should now have the desire to make a purchase.

Action – Now that you’ve created the desire to make a purchase, the final step is to persuade the person to take immediate action. Telling your audience “If you buy this right now, you can buy it at a special price or have two products for the price of one,” normally accomplishes this. Without a specific call to action, the person may simply forget about your offer and move on.

How To Encode & Decode A Communication Model

Encoding Messages

  • Regardless of whether your audience consists of a single person or a crowd you need to determine exactly what they are about; culture, habits, gender etc. By doing this you will be much more successful at encoding your message effectively. For example, you might smile to accentuate a happy tone in your message, but in some countries a smile indicates embarrassment and so could turn your message’s meaning around completely.
  • Choose an environment that is appropriate to communicate your message.
  • Your appearance is very important – your clothes, grooming habits, hair styles all represent your attitude towards a given subject or situation.
  • Make sure you keep an appropriate distance from your audience. Personal communication can take place much closer to each other than public or business communication. Being too close will make your audience uncomfortable and prevent it from successfully decoding your message.

Decoding Messages

  • Take heed of the non-verbal communication that is brought across by the communicator. Anything like body language or gestures will add extra meaning and emphasise the actual verbal message. It is, however, advisable to keep cultural norms in mind when doing so.
  • Try to see the message that is being sent from the communicator’s point of view. This should enable you to understand the other person’s thoughts and ideas better and thus decode the message effectively.
  • Analyse the setting from where the message is being sent. For example, if an old friend invites you to have lunch but to meet at their office first, it could indicate that they want to share their professional success with you.

Noise Within A Communication Model

Noise is anything that disrupts or interferes with the communication process. Noise can be physical or psychological, it can disrupt the communication process at any point, and it can be associated with any element in the system.” – Sandra D. Collins, Interpersonal Communication: Listening and Responding, 2nd ed. South-Western, 2009

Feedback Within A Communication Model

This is usually considered as the final point in the communication process. Once a message has been received, the receiver, in some way, will respond to the sender. It could be in the form of spoken content, a sigh, a written message, a smile or even lack of response is considered appropriate. The sender will not know if the receiver has interpreted the message correctly if there is no confirmation of this and feedback is the way the sender can evaluate the message’s effectiveness and take corrective action if indeed it was misunderstood.

3 Factors Of Effective Communication

The communication process takes place between 2 or more people. The Sender encodes a message, through a channel, to a Receiver who decodes the message and responds through feedback.  Effective communication results when there is a transfer of complete understanding between the Sender and the Receiver.

  • The right atmosphere with no noise or visual distractions.
  • Agreement on interpretation of words.
  • Awareness of each other’s attitudes.
  • Awareness of each other’s fields of experience.
  • Awareness that people’s perceptions are different.
  • Awareness of cultural differences.
  • Ability to distinguish between facts and opinions.
  • Getting or giving feedback or response.
  • Making no false assumptions about what the other party knows.
  • Awareness of body language.

People Management – Effective Communication

What would be considered good or effective communication?  It would be communication in which:

  • The sender and receiver of information are properly matched.
  • The message is communicated clearly – i.e. without misunderstanding or misinterpretation.
  • Communication is made using an appropriate communication channel and/or method.
  • The receiver of the communication is able to pass on any relevant and appropriate feedback (i.e. two-way communication).

 

There are many reasons why it is important for a business to achieve effective communication:

  • Motivates employees – helps them feel part of business.
  • Easier to control and coordinate business activity – prevents different parts of business going in opposite directions.
  • Makes successful decision-making easier – decisions are based on more complete and accurate information.
  • Better communication with customers will increase sales.
  • Improve relationships with suppliers.
  • Improves chances of obtaining finance – e.g. keeping the bank up-to-date about how business is doing.

 

The link between communication and motivation is particularly important. Good communication is an important part of motivating employees and the main motivational theorists recognised this:

Mayo emphasised the importance of communication in meeting employees’ social needs

Maslow and Herzberg stressed the importance of recognising employee’s achievements and self-esteem needs.

Amongst other reasons for using communication to boost motivation are:

  • Ensures that everyone is working towards same company goals
  • Enables employees to be involved in decision-making
  • Employees can offer feedback and give suggestions
  • People are motivated by having clear targets set for them
  • Recognises employee achievements

 

Speaking

The first step in developing communication skills is learning and practicing speaking abilities.  The following basic rules should assist you in developing speaking skills:

In order to be able to speak effectively, you should plan what to say. Determine what your main idea is and organise your thoughts so they lead to the main idea of the message you are trying to send across.

Once you have communicated your main idea, you should try to determine if your listeners have understood what you have said. Make sure that you keep your communication focused, direct and to the point.

Take note of the style you use when speaking and expressing yourself. The speaking style you use has a large impact on your listeners — especially if you want to be convincing.

Try to be warm and enthusiastic while you are speaking. In this way, your listeners will be responsive and perfect interaction can be formed.

When answering questions, take your time by paraphrasing the question to be sure that you understand exactly what it means. In situations where you do not know the answer to the question, do not make up an answer, instead simply admit that you do not know the answer.

 

Listening

It is essential for the receiver of communicated information to have listening skills. When you listen empathically, you hear more than words: you always hear thoughts, beliefs and feelings. Empathic listening is highly active and requires hard work.

The following steps may help you to improve your listening skills:

  • The first step is to decide to listen and concentrate on the speaker (i.e. the sender of the message).
  • Use your imagination and enter the speaker’s situation. Concentrate and try to imagine his/her frame of reference and point of view.
  • Observe the speaker’s vocal inflection, enthusiasm (or lack of enthusiasm), and style of delivery. These are essential components of the message. If you are speaking face-to-face, pay attention to the speaker’s facial expressions and other nonverbal cues for more insight into the message.
  • Listen without interruption. Note key phrases or use word associations to remember the speaker’s content.
  • Use paraphrasing or clarifying questions to confirm that you received the intended message. Check your perceptions of how the speaker is feeling to put the text of the message in emotional context.
  • Finally, provide feedback to the speaker.

 

4 Barriers To Successful Communication

Communication barriers can pop-up at every stage of the communication process (which consists of sender, message, channel, receiver, feedback and context – see the diagram below) and have the potential to create misunderstanding and confusion.

To be an effective communicator and to get your point across without misunderstanding and confusion, your goal should be to lessen the frequency of these barriers at each stage of this process with clear, concise, accurate, well-planned communication.

To improve your communication it is important to recognise any and all barriers to effective communication as part of the communication process.

The following types of barriers hampers the communication process:

  • Encoding Barriers
  • Transmitting Barriers
  • Decoding Barriers
  • Responding Barriers

 

Encoding Barriers

This is the process of selecting and organising symbols to represent a message, using your knowledge and skills.  Barriers to converting the message include:

  1. Lack of sensitivity to receive – There is normally a breakdown in communication that causes the message not to be received. For example if a customer is angry, an effective response may be to just listen to the person vent for a while.

  1. Lack of basic communication skills – If the sender has a problem in choosing the correct words to fit the message, then the receiver is less likely to understand the message.

  1. Insufficient knowledge of the subject – The sender lacks information about the subject and this will cause the receiver to have a mixed or unclear message.

  1. Information overload – If the message has too much information, you may tend to put up a barrier as there is too much information coming too fast and you – as the receiver – are not comfortable with this.

  1. Emotional interference – If a person is angry, hostile, resentful, fearful, joyful etc., that person may be too preoccupied to receive the full message.

Transmitting Barriers

 Things that get in the way of message being received are sometimes called “noise”.  When “noise” becomes a problem, the following barriers to receiving the message may occur.

  1. Physical Distractions – a poor cellular phone line or a noisy environment can destroy communication.  If an e-mail message or letter is not formatted properly, or if it contains grammatical and spelling errors, the receiver may not be able to concentrate on the message because the physical appearance of the letter or e-mail is sloppy and unprofessional.

  1. Conflicting Messages – messages that cause a conflict in perception for the receiver may result in incomplete communication.  For example, if a person constantly uses jargon or slang to communicate with someone from another country who has never heard such expressions, mixed messages are sure to result.

Another example of conflicting messages might be if a supervisor requests a report immediately without giving the report writer enough time to gather the proper information.  Does the report writer emphasise speed in writing the report, or accuracy in gathering the data?

  1. ‪Channel Barriers – if the sender chooses an inappropriate channel of communication, communication may cease.  Detailed instructions presented over the telephone, for example, may be frustrating for both communicators.  If you are on a computer technical support help line discussing a problem, it would be helpful for you to be sitting in front of a computer, as opposed to taking notes from the support staff and then returning to your computer station.

  1. Long Communication Chain – the longer the communication chain, the greater the chance for error. If a message is passed through too many receivers, the message often becomes distorted. If a person starts a message at one end of a communication chain of ten people, for example, the message that eventually returns is usually liberally altered.

Decoding Barriers

The receiving end may be the reason why the communication has broken down.  That is normally if there is a lack of interest on the side of the receiver, or a lack of knowledge or communication skills on either the sender or receiver’s part.  The communication cycle may break down at the receiving end for any of these reasons:

  1. Lack of Interest – if a message reaches a receiver who is not interested in the message, the receiver may read the message hurriedly or listen to the message carelessly.  Miscommunication may result in both cases.
  2. ‪Lack of Knowledge – if a receiver is unable to understand a message filled with technical information, communication will break down.  Unless a computer user knows something about the Windows environment, for example, the user may have difficulty organising files if given technical instructions.
  3. Lack of Communication Skills – those who have weak reading and listening skills make ineffective receivers.  On the other hand, those who have a good professional vocabulary and who concentrate on listening, have less trouble hearing and interpreting good communication.   Many people tune out who is talking and mentally rehearse what they are going to say in return.
  4. Emotional Distractions – if emotions interfere with the creation and transmission of a message, they can also disrupt reception.  If you receive a report from your supervisor regarding proposed changes in work procedures and you do not particularly like your supervisor, you may have trouble even reading the report objectively.  You may read, not objectively, but to find fault.  You may misinterpret words and read negative impressions between the lines.  Consequently, you are likely to misunderstand part or all of the report.
  5. Physical Distractions – if a receiver of a communication works in an area with bright lights, glare on computer screens, loud noises, excessively hot or cold work spaces, or physical ailments, that receiver will probably experience communication breakdowns on a regular basis.

Responding Barriers

The communication cycle may be broken if feedback is unsuccessful.

  1. ‪No Provision for Feedback – since communication is a two-way process; the sender must search for a means of getting a response from the receiver.  If a team leader does not permit any interruptions or questions while discussing projects, he may find that team members may not completely understand what they are to do.  Face-to-face oral communication is considered the best type of communication since feedback can be both verbal and nonverbal.  When two communicators are separated, care must be taken to ask for meaningful feedback.

  1. ‪Inadequate Feedback – delayed or judgmental feedback can interfere with good communication.  If your supervisor gives you instructions in long, complex sentences without giving you a chance to speak, you may pretend to understand the instructions just so you can leave the stress of the conversation.  Because you may not have fully understood the intended instructions, your performance may suffer.

 

Communication Stumbling Blocks

If you are unable to communicate what you think and what you want, you will not be very successful in getting your work done in a corporate environment.  It is important to note the barriers to communication and how you can possibly avoid these barriers.

  1. Accusing – Accusing and blaming are the most destructive forms of communication. When accusing, the other person feels that you assume he/she is guilty, even without hearing their side of the story.

Never accuse or blame unless is it required to address certain exceptional issues. In a corporate environment, accusing and blaming should not take place at all.

  1. Judging – Judging is one of the blockers that prevents the information flow in communication. As an example, if one person is suspecting that you judge him/her, he/she will not open up to you and tell you all what they intended to tell you. Instead, they will tell you what they think is safe to tell you. Make sure, then, that you do not judge people when you communicate with them. Judging makes others feel that one person is on a higher level that the rest.

  1. Insulating – Insulting takes you nowhere in communication. Do you like to be insulted by someone else? Therefore, you should not insult another person regardless of how irritated you are or how wrong you think others are.

There are many ways of managing your temper other than insulting others. Insulting does not gain you the information you may require.

  1. Diagnosis – If you are inclined to diagnose something said by another person, think twice before actually doing so. If you diagnose something, you should have more expertise than the person who originated the communication.

When you try to diagnose something without the proper background, others perceive it as if you are trying to show your expertise as above the other person’s.

This is a communication blocker and the other person may be reluctant to provide you with all the information he/she has.

  1. Sarcasm – In order to have effective communication, you need to show respect to others. If you show no respect, you get no information. This is exactly what sarcasm does – it erodes respect.

If you become sarcastic towards a person, that person will surely hold back a lot of valuable information that is important to you. Showing your sense of humour is one thing – sarcasm is quite another.

  1. Globalising – Do not use words such as “always” or “never”. These make the parties involved in the discussions uncomfortable as well as giving the notion of negativity. Try to avoid such globalising words and rather focus on the issue in hand.

 

  1. Threats or Orders – Understanding what the other person says is key to a successful outcome from communication. Overpowering rather than understanding the other person has many negative consequences when it comes to communication.

With threats and orders there is only one-way communication and nothing collaborative will take place. Therefore, it is necessary for you to avoid threats or orders when communicating.

  1. Interrupting – Interrupting is a good thing when you want to clarify something that has been said. Many times, however, people interrupt in order to express their own views or to oppose what has been said.

When such interruptions take place, the person who was speaking may feel that you are no longer interested in what they are saying. Therefore, interrupt when it is really necessary and only to get things clarified.

  1. Changing the Subject – If the other person is keen on talking about something, changing the subject might result in some issues in communication.

Changing the subject in the middle of a discussion can be interpreted as lack of interest in the subject and unwillingness to pay attention. This may result unproductive and ineffective communication outcomes.

  1. Calling for Reassurance – Sometimes, we tend to do this. When one person is telling you something, you try to get the reassurance for what has been said from others.

This behaviour makes the first person uncomfortable and it is an indication that you do not believe or trust what the person says.  If you need a reassurance of what has been said, do it in a more private manner once the discussion is over.

To become a good manager, one must have a contingency at hand when it comes to communicating with employees.  Effective communication management is considered to be a lifeline for many projects that an organisation undertakes, as well as for any department within the organisation. It is suggested that the 5 “Ws” are used when addressing others to lead to being successful and effective in your communication.

The 5 Ws are:

  • What information is essential for the project?
  • Who requires information
  • What type of information is needed?
  • What is the time required for the information?
  • What type or format of information is required?
  • Who is/are the person/s that will be responsible for transmitting the collated information?

The five Ws in communication management are only a guideline. You do need to take other considerations into account, such as cost and access to information.

  1. Barriers to effective human communication – Communication is the key factor in the success of any organisation. When it comes to effective communication, there are certain barriers that every organisation faces. People sometimes feel that communication is as easy and simple as it sounds. But what makes it complex, difficult and frustrating are the barriers that come in its wake. Some of these barriers are mentioned below.

Barriers to successful communication include message overload (when a person receives too many messages at the same time), and message complexity.

There can also be a lack of determining “knowledge appropriate” communication, such as when someone uses ambiguous legal words, or medical jargon, when speaking with another person who lacks the relevant vocabulary in these areas. Effective communication can be achieved only when the words used are brought to a common level of understanding for both parties.

  1. Physical barriers – Physical barriers are found in the nature of the environment. Physical barriers include noise as found at a construction site, in a busy street, or near noisy machines.
  2. System design – These are normally found in systems such as a lack of supervision or training, and a lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities.
  3. Attitudinal barriers – Attitudinal barriers are created when people are mismanaged or not consulted with, have personal conflict, or by a person’s own perceptions, attitudes and dissatisfactions with a variety of issues.
  4. Ambiguity of words/phrases – Words sounding the same but having different meaning can convey a different meaning altogether. Therefore, the communicator must ensure that the receiver receives the same meaning. It would be better if such words can be avoided by using alternatives.
  5. Individual linguistic ability – The use of jargon, difficult or inappropriate words in communication can prevent people from understanding the message. Poorly explained or misunderstood messages can also result in confusion. However, research in communication has shown that confusion can lend legitimacy to research when persuasion fails.
  6. Physiological barriers – These may result from individuals’ personal discomfort, caused—for example—by ill health, poor eyesight or hearing difficulties.
  7. Presentation of information – Presentation of information is important to aid understanding. Simply put, the communicator must consider the audience before making the presentation itself. In cases where this is not possible the presenter can at least try to simplify his/her vocabulary so that the majority can understand

Communication often falls short of a transfer of complete understanding. This can be caused by the sender, the receiver, or both, and sometimes by the situation in which the communication occurs.

Barriers Often Created By The Sender

  • Failure to see communication as a 2-way process.
  • Failure to think out the message clearly before communicating it.
  • Using bad grammar and sentence structure.
  • Speaking in terms unfamiliar to the receiver.
  • Giving information too fast or in too large amounts.
  • Including side issues and other irrelevant material.
  • Misjudging when the message should be given.
  • Limitation of communication to things that will not offend.
  • Fear of displaying limited knowledge.
  • Attack of nerves or lack of confidence in self.

Cross-cultural Communication Barriers

Within a country as diverse as South Africa, the very diversity of cultures imposes a range of challenges that must be overcome in order to attain effective communication.

Culture determines the distinctive ways in which different people, societies or smaller groups organise their lives or activities in terms of language, religious beliefs, economic beliefs, social values, physical characteristics and use of non-verbal cues. Communication within various cultures will be adapted according to the above mentioned influences.

Culture is a complex concept, with many different definitions. But, simply put, “culture” refers to a group or community with which individuals share common experiences that shape the way they understand the world as a collective.

The phrase cross-cultural communication describes the ability to successfully form, foster, and improve relationships with members of a culture different from one’s own. It is based on knowledge of many factors such as the other culture’s values, perceptions, manners, social structure, and decision-making practices, and an understanding of how members of the group communicate–verbally, non-verbally, in person, in writing, and in various business and social contexts, to name but a few.

Knowing and understanding cultural differences plays a vital part in improving the effectiveness of communication. To effectively communicate cross-culturally, whereby communication occurs when a message sent by a member of one culture is received by a member of another culture, it is important to take cognisance of the six fundamental patterns of cultural differences and to master the skill of using language to bridge these differences.

Six Fundamental Patterns of Cultural Differences

  1. Different Communication Styles – The way people communicate varies widely between, and even within, cultures. One aspect of communication style is language usage. Across cultures, some words and phrases are used in different ways. For example, even in countries that share the English language, the meaning of “yes” varies from “maybe, I’ll consider it” to “definitely so,” with many shades in between.

Another major aspect of communication style is the degree of importance given to non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication includes not only facial expressions and gestures, but also seating arrangements, personal distance, and sense of time. In addition, different norms regarding the appropriate degree of assertiveness in communicating can add to cultural misunderstandings. For instance, within the white South African context a raised voice is consider a sign that a fight has begun, while the black South Africans often feel that an increase in volume is a sign of an exciting conversation among friends or a desire to be transparent in conversations, a way of talking. Thus, some white South Africans may react with greater alarm to a loud discussion than their black counterparts.

  1. Different attitudes towards conflict – Some cultures view conflict as a positive thing, while others view it as something to be avoided. In western countries, conflict is not usually desirable, but people are often encouraged to deal directly with conflicts that do arise. In fact, face-to-face meetings customarily are recommended as the way to work through whatever problems exist. In contrast, in many eastern countries, open conflict is experienced as embarrassing or demeaning; as a rule, differences are best worked out quietly. A written exchange might be the best means to address the conflict.

  1. Different approaches to completing tasks – From culture to culture, there are different ways that people move toward completing tasks. Some reasons include different access to resources; different judgments of the rewards associated with task completion, different notions of time; and varied ideas about how relationship-building and task-oriented work should go together.

When it comes to working together effectively on a task, cultures differ with respect to the importance placed on establishing relationships early on in the collaboration. A case in point, Asian and Hispanic cultures tend to attach more value to developing relationships at the beginning of a shared project and more emphasis on task completion toward the end as compared with Europeans-. Europeans tend to focus immediately on the task at hand, and let relationships develop as they work on the task. This does not mean that people from any one of these cultural backgrounds are more or less committed to accomplishing the task, or value relationships more or less; it means they simply pursue them differently.

  1. Different decision-making styles – The roles individuals play in decision-making vary widely from culture to culture. For example, in certain countries decisions are frequently delegated — that is, an official assigns responsibility for a particular matter to a subordinate. For many, there is a strong value placed on holding decision-making responsibilities oneself. When decisions are made by groups of people, majority rule is a common approach in South Africa; in Japan consensus is the preferred mode. Be aware that an individual’s expectations about their own roles in shaping a decision may be influenced by their cultural frame of reference.

  1. Different attitudes towards disclosure – In some cultures it is not appropriate to be open and direct about emotions, about the reasons behind a conflict or a misunderstanding, or about personal information. This should be kept in mind during dialogue or when working with others. In conflict situations is it important to be mindful of this aspect when sending messages to others since the receivers might differ in the way they feel comfortable about revealing facts. When you are dealing with a conflict, be mindful that people may differ in what they feel comfortable revealing.

Questions that may seem natural such as

  • What was the conflict about?
  • What was your role in the conflict?
  • What was the sequence of events?

may seem intrusive to others. The variation among cultures in attitudes toward disclosure is also something to consider before concluding an accurate reading of views, experiences, and goals of a diverse group of people within a workplace.

  1. Different approaches to knowing – Notable differences occur among cultural groups when it comes to epistemologies — that is, the ways people come to know things. European cultures tend to consider information acquired through cognitive means, such as counting and measuring, more valid than other ways of coming to know things. Compare that to African cultures’ preference for affective ways of knowing, including symbolic imagery and rhythm. Asian cultures’ epistemologies tend to emphasise the validity of knowledge gained through striving toward transcendence.

Recent popular works demonstrate that our own society is paying more attention to previously overlooked ways of knowing. Indeed, these different approaches to knowing could affect ways of analysing a community problem or finding ways to resolve it. Some members of a group may want to do research to understand a shared problem better and identify possible solutions. Others may prefer to visit places and people who have experienced challenges like the ones currently being experienced, and get a feeling for what has worked elsewhere.

With an understanding of the six fundamental differences in various cultures, it is important to realise that that there are various challenges in cross-cultural communication and ways should be sought to limit these effectively.

Challenges in cross-cultural communication

  1. Language – Meaning is often lost in translating from one language to another.

  1. Body Language – There is no shared meaning or universal understanding of postures, gestures, eye contact, facial expression, touching or speaking, as their interpretation differs from one culture to another. Body language or gestures can mean different things to different people even in one cultural group. In most African cultures, it is considered impolite to make eye contact with a superior. Western cultures believe that avoiding eye contact indicates that the person is hiding something. Someone fiddling with a ring does not mean the person feels insecure within his/her marriage, it can be a sign of anxiety, stress or just a habit.

  1. Personal space – different zones for intimate, personal, social and public space exist in different cultures. Many Western cultures prefer a larger personal and social space but in Eastern Latin American and African cultures, people feel quite comfortable moving closer to each other and even touching each other.

  1. Ethnocentrism – This type of thinking advocates that only one culture makes sense, espouses the right values and represents the right and logical way to behave.

Cross-culture communication barriers can only be removed through accepting that cultural differences exist and when communicators and receivers try to be culturally sensitive towards each other and try to accommodate each other’s views with respect. By using the elements of the basic interpersonal communication model, adjustments can be made to the encoding and decoding phase, the use of language, non-verbal cues and listening skills.

Ten Tips for Cross Cultural Communication

Slow Down

Even when English is the common language in a cross cultural situation, this does not mean you should speak at normal speed. Slow down, speak clearly and ensure your pronunciation is intelligible.
Separate Questions Try not to ask double questions such as, “Do you want to carry on or shall we stop here?” In a cross cultural situation only the first or second question may have been comprehended. Let your listener answer one question at a time.
Avoid Negative Questions Many cross cultural communication misunderstandings have been caused by the use of negative questions and answers. In English we answer ‘yes’ if the answer is affirmative and ‘no’ if it is negative. In other cultures a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ may only be indicating whether the questioner is right or wrong. For example, the response to “Are you not coming?” may be ‘yes’, meaning ‘Yes, I am not coming.’
Take Turns Cross cultural communication is enhanced through taking turns to talk, making a point and then listening to the response.
Write it Down If you are unsure whether something has been understood write it down and check.
Be Supportive Effective cross cultural communication is, in essence, about being comfortable. Giving encouragement to those with weak English gives them confidence, support and trust in you.
Check Meanings When communicating across cultures never assume the other party has understood. Be an active listener. Summarise what has been said in order to verify it. This is a very effective way of ensuring accurate cross cultural communication has taken place.
Avoid slang Even the most well educated foreigner will not have a complete knowledge of slang, idioms and sayings. The danger is that the words will be understood but the meaning missed.
Watch the humor In many cultures business is taken very seriously. Professionalism and protocol are constantly observed. Many cultures will not appreciate the use of humour and jokes in the business context. When using humour consider whether or not it will be understood in the other culture.
Maintain Etiquette

Many cultures have certain etiquette standards when communicating. It is always a good idea to undertake some cross cultural awareness training or at least do some research on the target culture. Cross cultural communication is about dealing with people from other cultures in a way that minimises misunderstandings and maximises your potential to create strong cross cultural relationships.

 

Assertive communication involves respect for the boundaries of oneself and others. It also presumes an interest in the fulfilment of needs and wants through cooperation.

 

Assertive communication of personal opinions, needs, and boundaries has been conceptualised as the behavioural middle ground, lying between ineffective passive and aggressive responses.  Such communication emphasises expressing feelings forthrightly, but in a way that will not spiral into aggression. If others’ actions threaten one’s boundaries, one communicates this to prevent escalation.

 

In contrast, “aggressive communication” judges, threatens, lies, breaks confidences, stonewalls, and violates others’ boundaries.

 

At the opposite end of the dialectic is “passive communication”. Victims may passively permit others to violate their boundaries. At a later time, they may come back and attack with a sense of impunity or righteous indignation.

Assertive communication attempts to transcend these extremes by appealing to the shared interest of all parties; it “focuses on the issue, not the person”. Aggressive and/or passive communication, on the other hand, may mark a relationship’s end, and reduce self-respect.

 

5 Assertiveness Within Communication

Assertiveness can be regarded as the ability to express yourself and your rights without violating the rights of others. Assertiveness refers to direct, open and honest communication which is self-enhancing and expressive. In other words, assertiveness is the ability to express yourself and your rights without violating the rights of others.

Being assertive involves the following abilities, skills and actions:

  • Being clear about what you feel, what you need and how it can be achieved;
  • Being able to communicate calmly without attacking another person;
  • Saying “Yes” when you mean “Yes” and “No” when you mean “No”;
  • Deciding on, and sticking to, clear boundaries;
  • Being confident about handling conflict if it occurs;
  • Understanding how to negotiate if two people want different outcomes;
  • Being able to talk openly about yourself and being able to listen to others;
  • Having confident, open body language;
  • Being able to give and receive positive and negative feedback; and
  • Having a positive, optimistic outlook.

In order to be truly assertive and to express your own needs comfortably, you have to believe that you have a legitimate right to have those needs. Although you are entitled to your own opinion — if you can explain and motive it — your profile of an assertive person should include the following characteristics.

An assertive person:

Expresses himself/herself with emotion:

Can express his/her personal likes and interests spontaneously, rather than stating things in neutral terms and use the phrase “I feel” or “I think” when it is appropriate.
Talks about himself/herself: Can mention his/her accomplishments when it is appropriate, without monopolising a conversation.
Makes small talk: Is outgoing and friendly with people and sound pleased to see them.
Accepts compliments: Can accept compliments graciously, rather than disagreeing with them.
Uses appropriate facial talk: Facial expressions and voice inflections convey the same feelings as his/her words; can look people directly in the eye when communicating with them.
Disagrees mildly: Does not pretend to agree for the sake of keeping the peace; can convey disagreement mildly by looking away, or raising eyebrows, or changing the topic of conversation.
Asks for clarification: Rather than going away confused and feeling dumb, the assertive person asks for clarification and/or directions.
Asks “Why”: When asked to do something that does not seem reasonable or enjoyable, the assertive person asks, “Why do you want me to do that?”
Expresses active disagreement. When disagreeing with someone, the assertive person expresses his/her disagreement by saying things like: “I have a different view of that matter”, or “My opinion is …”, or “I think your opinion leaves out of consideration the following factors …”.
Speaks up for his/her rights: Do not let others take advantage of him/her; can say “no” persistently and without feeling guilty; can demand his/her rights and ask to be treated with fairness and justice.
Is persistent: If the assertive person has a legitimate complaint, he/she restates it despite resistance from other parties.
Avoids justifying every opinion:

If someone continually argues and asks why, why, why, the assertive person can stop the questioning by refusing to be drawn in by it, or by reflecting it back to the other person.

Now that you know what assertiveness means and you are familiar with the characteristics of an assertive person, we will investigate the techniques and strategies for developing assertive behaviour.

Techniques In Assertiveness

Pure assertiveness — i.e. dominance for the sake of being dominant — is not a natural behaviour for most people. People are not naturally assertive: they tend to be passive by nature. Non-assertive people do not normally actually want to become excessively dominant people.

What people usually mean when they talk about being more assertive is that they would like to be able to resist the pressure of excessively dominant people.

Building self-confidence and assertiveness is probably far easier than you may think. There are a number of techniques and methods available for developing more assertive behaviour.

The six steps of developing assertiveness:

  1. Know the facts relating to the situation and have the details to hand;
  2. Anticipate other people’s behaviour and prepare your responses;
  3. Prepare and use good open questions;
  4. Re-condition and practice your own new reactions to aggression;
  5. Have faith that your own abilities and style will ultimately work; and
  6. Develop sympathy for dominant people.

Step 1: Know the facts relating to a situation

Ensure that you know all the facts in advance: do some research and have it ready to produce if necessary. Dominant people often fail to prepare their facts; they dominate through force and reputation. If you produce facts to support or defend your position, it is unlikely that the aggressor will have anything prepared in response.

When you know that a situation over which you would like to have some influence is going to arise, make sure that you perform the following actions:

Prepare your facts and do your research

  • Get the facts and figures
  • Consult information sources that you can quote if necessary

If you enter a potentially problematic situation in this way, you should be able to make a firm case, and improve your reputation for being someone who is organised and firm — someone who is assertive.

Step 2: Anticipate other people’s behaviour and prepare your own responses

Role-play in your mind how things are likely to happen. Prepare your responses according to the different scenarios that you think may unfold. Prepare other people to support and defend you. Being well prepared will increase your self-confidence and enable you to be assertive about what is important to you.

Step 3: Prepare and use good open questions

Asking sensible questions is the most reliable way of gaining the initiative and exposing the flaws in other people’s arguments. Dominant people dislike deep, constructive and probing questions; particularly if the question exposes a lack of thought, preparation and consideration on their part.

Examples of constructive, open questions:

  • Do you have any evidence for what you are claiming?
  • Who have you consulted about this?
  • How did you go about looking for alternative solutions?
  • How have you measured (whatever you say is a problem)?
  • How will you measure the true effectiveness of your solution if you implement it?
  • Can you propose different solutions that have worked effectively in similar situations?

If your questions are avoided or ignored, simply return to them or re-phrase them (which you can also prepare in advance).

Step 4: Re-condition and practise your own new reactions to aggression

It is important to re-condition your own reaction to the aggression of dominant people, so that you are not “bulldozed” into anything. Visualising is a powerful tool in this regard. — Try visualising yourself behaving in a firm manner, saying firm things, asking firm clear, probing questions, and presenting well-prepared facts and evidence.

Practice in your mind saying — and believing — the following:

  • “Hold on a minute. I need to consider what you have just said.”
  • “I’m not sure about that. It’s too important to make a snap decision now.”
  • “I can’t agree to that at such short notice. Tell me when you really need to know, and I’ll get back to you.”
  • “You don’t frighten me.”

Practice these phrases until you can control your own response to being bullied or dominated.

Step 5: Have faith that your own abilities will ultimately work

Non-assertive people have different styles and methods compared to dominant, aggressive people. Non-assertive people are often extremely strong in areas of process, detail, dependability, reliability, communicating, interpreting and understanding, and working cooperatively with others. These capabilities all have the potential to undo dominant or aggressive behaviour that has no proper justification. Find out what your strengths and style are and use them to defend and support your position. Aggression is no match for a well organised defence.

Step 6: Feel sympathy for dominant people

Re-discover the belief that non-assertive behaviour is actually fine: it is the aggressors who are the ones with the actual problems. Feeling sympathy for someone who threatens you will be psychologically empowering. Be kind to the aggressors: in many ways they are still children.

6 Listening

Listening forms an important part of the communication process whereby the receiver searches the intellectual and emotional meaning of the message.  Listening is not hearing the message but the process of listening to the total meaning in the content of the message and the feeling or attitude underlying the content – the verbal and non-verbal message. Hearing entails the passive, sound waves stimulating the sensory receptors of the ear, whereby listening has more to do with an active process which requires a purposeful and systematic response to messages.

Stages Of The Listening Process

 

Stage 1 –Hearing – It occurs when the sound waves are received. Conscious perception of the contents of the message does not occur at the stage.

Stage 2 – Attention – The listener focuses on what is being said and how it is being said. The brain selects only a few stimuli out of the mass of stimuli presented.

Stage 3 – Understanding – The listener analyses and interprets the content of the message in order that understanding may take place. The message meaning is analysed and the non-verbal codes are interpreted. The meaning will differ from one listener to another due to the unique frame of reference each listener has.

 

Stage 4 – Remembering – The message is stored for later recall.

 

Stage 5 – Responding – The final stage occurs when the listener responds to the receiver. The response indicates the listener understands of the message and his/her interpretation. The sender will now verify if the content of the message was correctly interpreted and will either restate or clarify certain parts of the message to the receiver.

Developing Effective Listening Skill & Comprehension

In order to develop listening skills and comprehension, it is firstly important to understand how spoken language (text) differs from written language (text).

Written English consists of neat, correct sentences, whereas spoken English does not.

Speech usually consists of idea units. Each idea unit is a short piece of spoken language; usually about two seconds long, and consisting of a few words — on average about seven words. Unfortunately, idea units do not always consist of complete sentences. In the table below, we outline the main differences between spoken idea units and written sentences.

Spoken idea units

Written sentences
Speech usually uses simpler grammar and idea units are strung together. Written sentences usually have more complex grammar.
Speech contains mistakes and grammatical errors. Written language is usually more correct and polished.
Speech contains pauses and hesitations as well as fillers — i.e. meaningless words that give the speaker thinking time, e.g. well now, uh and let me see. Written language does not contain pauses, hesitations, or fillers.
Spoken language is modern and up-to-date and, therefore, it contains more slang words, new expressions, figures of speech, and humour. Written language tends to be more conservative and even old-fashioned.
In speech a great deal of information is not actually stated. Speakers often use their tone of voice, or stress and intonation to express important information and emotions such as pleasure, anger or attitudes such as disbelief or sarcasm.

In written language, all information is recorded.

 

In spite of the differences in writing and speech, both listening and reading involve comprehension (understanding). In both reading and listening, we are trying to get some meaning from the language. In order to understand the meaning of spoken texts, listeners have to use their existing knowledge.

The following five important types of knowledge are used in listening comprehension:

  1. Knowledge of the language of the aural text, which includes knowledge of the vocabulary, grammar and structure of the language.
  2. Knowledge of the sound system of the language of the aural text, as well as knowledge of the way in which sounds change in quick speech — fast pronunciation is rather different from the dictionary’s word formation.
  3. Knowledge about what has already been said: the listener usually understands things based on what he/she has already understood.
  4. Knowledge about the situation in which the speech is taking place, which gives the listener expectations about what might be coming next.
  5. Knowledge about the world: listeners use their existing background knowledge about the world to help them understand new information.

Identifying Viewpoints In Spoken Texts

A spoken text is not created neutrally: speakers always integrate their experience(s) of reality and their personal beliefs and values in the spoken text. In other words, in the context of spoken texts, viewpoint refers to the way in which an individual speaker regards a topic (theme), or the ideas being discussed.

In a spoken text, viewpoint includes the following components:

  • The speaker’s experiences, beliefs, feelings and opinions as they are expressed in the content of the spoken text and
  • the language in which the speaker expresses (presents) his/her feelings and opinions in the spoken text

The listener to the spoken is expected to listen to the text critically in order to identify and analyse the speaker’s viewpoint, opinions and assumptions presented in the spoken text. The listener can, for example, identify words and/or phrases that indicate the speaker’s feelings for or against a person or an issue.

The following questions should help one to explore viewpoint in a spoken text:

  • What opinions or belief statements are evident in the spoken text and why is this particular opinion expressed?
  • What background information does the listener have that may help him/her to understand the point of view expressed in the spoken text?
  • What facts may be missing?
  • What words and phrases are used to present the information?

Responding To The Spoken Text

In the communication process that takes place between the speaker and the listener of the spoken text, the listener plays an active role, in that he/she is responsible for interpreting and responding to the message in the spoken text.

Response to the spoken text is mainly determined by the following two elements: on the one hand the message of the speaker — as expressed in the text and the subtext —and the listener’s personal experiences and knowledge on the other hand. In other words, the listener enters the communication situation with his/her prior knowledge (which includes pre-existing attitudes, experiences and beliefs) and this knowledge assists him/her with the interpretation of and response to the spoken text. In other words, the listener uses his/her prior knowledge as a reference framework in which to discover new ideas and to reconsider existing beliefs.

If one should relate prior knowledge to the message in a spoken text, in order to respond to the text it may be helpful to ask the following questions:

  • “What knowledge will help me understand the information in this spoken text”
  • “Which details from the spoken text connect to my personal life experiences?”
  • “What background knowledge would help me to understand this text?”
  • “What personal connections can I make with the information revealed in this spoken text?”
  • “Does the message in this spoken text remind me of other information (facts) that I have heard before?”
  • “What did I learn about the world from this text? What can I add to my existing knowledge of this topic, based on the information in this spoken text?”

Controlling Discussion Sensitively

Discussions are an effective means of encouraging the participants to think critically and to apply problem-solving skills and abilities. However, because of the individual viewpoints and different messages implied in the subtexts of the spoken text, managing (controlling) the discussion can be a daunting task.  The discussion leader walks a fine line between controlling the group and allowing the participants to speak freely. The most common pitfalls in a discussion are overly long discussions, pointless arguments, or no real discussion at all. One of the greatest concerns in this regard, is how to keep the discussion moving and on track.

In order for a successful discussion to take place, it is necessary to create a comfortable and non-threatening environment. In the following sections, we will make a number of suggestions in terms of controlling a discussion sensitively and creating a non-threatening discussion environment:

Get Acquainted

In order for participants to feel comfortable talking in front of the group, it is important for them to know each other. The discussion leader can use any suitable method of introducing participants to one another provided the participants enjoy themselves, gain some useful information about one another and remember one another.

Show Respect For All Questions & Comments

It is essential to avoid judging the contributions and/or responses or participants so that an individual participant never feels embarrassed when asking or answering a question. In order to provide a safe atmosphere for a discussion, people should understand that they are allowed to make mistakes, to be wrong, and to disagree.

Integrate Participants’ Responses Into The Discussion

People will commonly participate more freely in discussion if they feel that their own concerns and ideas have contributed to the objective(s) of the discussion. Therefore, it is important to pose follow-up questions that connect participants to the main points under discussion. Participants should also be made aware that they are supposed to listen to one another.

Ask Questions That Promote Discussion

Any discussion is controlled to a large extent by the type of questions asked by the group leader. Remember, the goal of questions is to make the participants think critically and to contribute creatively to the discussion.

Every type of question has its purposes, but you need to give some thought both to the objectives and to the kind of response that a particular type of question establishes. For example, a question such as, “Is everyone familiar with the content of the South African constitution?” may not get much more than a few nods from your participants. If the question is meant to encourage participation, it may be more sensible to ask: “Would anyone outline the basic human rights, as recorded in the South African constitution?” The most important type of questions that will promote discussion are open-ended questions and questions with multiple answers.

Organise, Summarise & Synthesise

Occasional summaries during a discussion help to structure the conclusions and to keep the participants on track. At the end of the discussion, summarise the points that the participants have made and connect them to the original objective(s) and the original question(s) posed at the beginning of the discussion. The idea is to allow participants to come to their own conclusions, but to help structure and analyse them.

Tolerate Opposition

A discussion group leader should not be afraid of conflict: opposition can actually be rather educational! If participants are disagreeing but backing their arguments up, it should be accepted as the nature of discussion. You may find that it is often more important to determine what group members (participants) are thinking than momentary control. Listening to alternative opinions and beliefs is a learning experience for everyone involved in the discussion.

Barriers To Effective Listening

Just as there is effective listening, there is also ineffective listening. There are many causes of ineffective listening, including:

  • Environmental limits, such as places that are noisy, cold, badly lit, poorly ventilated or badly arranged, and have constant distractions such as mobile phones or television.
  • Language or cultural limits can include multiple or ambiguous meanings of words, poor command of vocabulary due to age, education, jargon, slang, dialect, or English being a second language.
  • Being critical or making moral judgments puts the other person on guard, and usually reduces their willingness to share and be honest.
  • ‘Shoulding’, telling the other person what they should do, is extremely judgemental behaviour. It’s guaranteed to create distance.
  • Put-downs and patronising statements ridicule or shame the other person. They are likely to be countered by aggression at one extreme and withdrawal at the other.
  • Explaining something away, looking for causes and excuses, interpreting or intellectualising are all talking about the experience rather than experiencing it.
  • Interruption shows an unwillingness to listen, being more concerned with dominating or impressing the other person than achieving understanding.
  • Generalising, using ‘people’, ‘we’, ‘you’ or ‘one’ instead of ‘I’, impersonalises the conversation and avoids responsibility for the view expressed.
  • ‘Alwaysing’, using always, is a sure sign that a sweeping generalisation is on the way and discussion is almost impossible.
  • Using clichés, using those tired and worn-out phrases such as ‘better late than never’ and ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’, results in little value or significance.
  • Asking pseudo-questions; these are questions that attempt to manipulate, influence or control, such as ‘Would you agree that …?’, rather than questions that elicit information or opinion.
  • Shifting is about moving the focus away from oneself and introducing red herrings to divert the discussion and avoid dealing with anything uncomfortable or threatening.